When it comes to celebrations, everyone know that the pre-game and the after-party are always more fun than the main event. And we'd argue that the same rule holds true when it comes to eating: Appetizers—the food world's equivalent to a pre-party—and desserts are always the best parts. That said, if you're hosting a party or just want to kick off a dinner with some light bites, you'll want to take care in curating your menu—especially if you're going the frozen appetizer route.
While pairing crudites and a cheese plate with some frozen mini burgers can take the stress out of entertaining, there are so many ways it can go wrong. Will the food actually taste as appealing as it looks on the box? Will people be able to tell it's not homemade? And in terms of nutrition, are you basically serving fancy fast food? To answer these questions, Eat This, Not That! braved the tundra that is the frozen food section and examined all of the appetizers. Below, you'll find a culmination of our detective work: the very best and the very worst apps in the supermarket. And if you're typically a frazzled host, be sure to pick up some entertaining tips from our special report How to Host a Stress-Free, Healthy Dinner Party.
FIRST, THE BEST…
Hilary's Original Veggie Bites
3 bites, 100 calories, 4 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 190 mg sodium, 14 g carbs, 3 g fiber, 0 g sugar, 2 g protein
The worst and best thing about entertaining is all of the leftovers. That said, if they happen to be healthy— like these veggie bites—consider it a win. Not only do these mini millet-, quinoa- and veggie-based patties make for a tasty appetizer, the uneaten ones can be added to salads, wraps, and casseroles, so you'll be able to use 'em all up before they go bad—without derailing your diet.
Cape Gourmet Grilled Shrimp
3 oz, 50 calories, 0.5 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 330 mg sodium, 1 g carb, 0 g sugar, 10 g protein
Pair this unadulterated source of protein with some cocktail sauce for a simple yet filling appetizer.
Health Is Wealth Spring Rolls, Vegetable
2 spring rolls, 70 calories, 2 grams of fat, 0 g saturated fat, 290 mg sodium, 12 g carbs, 2 g fiber, < 1 g sugar, 3 g protein
By keeping stuff like cheese and bacon out of their spring roll, Health is Wealth beats their competition by a long stretch.
Alexa Sweet Potato Puffs
2/3 cup, 140 calories, 4.5 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 230 mg sodium, 23 g carbs, 3 g fiber, 9 g sugar, 1 g protein
A dusting of vinegar, mustard seed, turmeric, and paprika give these tater-tot-esque bites a flavor your guest won't be able to get enough of.
Cascadian Farm Shoe String French Fries
3 oz, 140 calories, 5 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 15 mg sodium, 21 g carbs, 2 g fiber, 1 g sugar, 2 g protein
Cascadian Farm tosses these fries in apple juice. And it's the sugar from that juice that helps these spuds caramelize into a crisp, golden crust. We're also lovin' the ultra-low sodium count.
Farm Rich Mozzarella Bites
4 pieces, 130 calories, 5 g fat, 2.5 g saturated fat, 330 mg sodium, 14 g carbs, 0 g fiber, 3 g sugar, 7 g protein
For something that's 90 percent bread and cheese the fat and carb count isn't too out of control. Plus, we love that these taste like a blend of pizza bites and mozzarella sticks but look far more "grown up." Looking for more healthy-ish ways to enjoy a frozen pie? Don't miss our report on the 25 Best and Worst Frozen Pizzas.
Anne's Three Cheese Pizza Poppers
6 pieces, 180 calories, 5 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 300 mg sodium, 27 g carbs, 1 g fiber, 3 g sugar, 7 g protein
These bite-sized snacks are filled with cheesy goodness—yet manage to stay light in the fat and sodium department.
Applegate Organics Organic Chicken Strips
3 strips, 170 calories, 8 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 350 mg sodium, 12 g carbs, 0 g fiber, 1 g sugar, 12 g protein
The relatively light breading makes Applegate's strips less fatty than other nuggets in the frozen food section. To take these strips a bit more "fancy," set out a trio of different dips: a classic ketchup, some honey mustard, and a homemade ginger sesame. Create the latter by combining 1 teaspoon of grated ginger, 1 minced scallion, 1 teaspoon of sesame oil, ¼ cup of low sodium soy sauce, 1 teaspoon of honey and 1 teaspoon of lemon juice. It's totally easy to make and your guests will love it!
José Olé Chicken Taquitos Rolled in Corn Tortillas
3 taquitos, 200 calories, 8 g fat, 1.5 g saturated fat, 400 mg sodium, 26 g carbs, 3 g fiber, < 1 g sugar, 7 g protein
These taquitos keep their fat count reasonable thanks in part to their little corn sleeping bags, which are lower in fat than flour tortillas.
Foster Farms Mini Corn Dogs Honey Crunchy
4 pieces, 220 calories, 13 g fat, 3.5 g saturated fat, 510 mg sodium, 19 g carbs, 0 g fiber, 7 g sugar, 7 g protein
At only 55 calories per dog, the damage potential here is relatively low. Better yet, these bad boys go from frozen solid to sizzling hot in just under 10 minutes!
Tommy's Superfoods Brussels Sprouts
2/3 cup, 70 calories, 1 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 125 mg sodium, 11 g carbs, 4 g fiber, 3 g sugar, 4 g protein
If you don't consider Brussels sprouts a legit app option, it's time to get on board. Veggies that have traditionally been seen as side dishes are now popping up at restaurants across the nation as appetizer offerings. We're fans of Tommy's blend of sprouts, mushrooms, onions, pepper, olive oil (one of the planet's top healthy fats), and spices because it's reminiscent of a flavor profile we'd drum-up in our own kitchens. Set out some toothpicks next to the serving bowl to make it easy for guests to dig in.
Dr. Prager's Taro Puffs
13 pieces, 160 calories, 4.5 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 290 mg sodium, 28 g carbs, 5 g fiber, 7 g sugar, 2 g protein
Since these are made with taro instead of plain ol' potatoes, your guests will view them as being a bit fancier than a typical tot. Plus, if you wind up with leftovers, it's no biggie at all. Packed with fiber and low in calories and sodium, this tater-tot alternative is a must try for picky little ones and fast-food-loving grown-ups alike!
NOW, THE WORST…
Mrs. Paul's Fried Clams
3 oz, 270 calories, 12 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 600 mg sodium, 31 g carbs, 1 g fiber, 2 g sugar, 8 g protein
Clams are among the sea's greatest gifts to man. Spoiling them with chemicals, heart-damaging hydrogenated oils, and the fryer treatment is an abomination. To learn more about the best and worst seafood for your diet, check out our special report Every Popular Fish—Ranked for Nutritional Benefits!
T.G.I Friday's Chicken Quesadilla Rolls
3 pieces, 250 calories, 12 g fat, 4 g saturated fat, 1 g trans fat, 410 mg sodium, 26 g carbs, 2 g fiber, 2 g sugar, 10 g protein
With an ingredient list as long as your baby registry and a splash of artery-clogging partially hydrogenated oil, these nutrient-void rolls are a definite no-go.
Ore-Ida Tater Tots
9 pieces, 160 calories, 8 g fat, 1.5 g saturated fat, 420 mg sodium, 20 g carbs, 2 g fiber, 1 g sugar, 2 g protein
Leave it to Ore-Ida to figure out a way to mess up a perfectly good spud. Each of these tots has nearly an entire gram of fat! For some perspective, it's competition has less than a half gram per treat! All that excess oil makes them a bit reminiscent of soggy cafeteria food. Do yourself—and your guests a favor and skip 'em!
Totino's Pizza Rolls Cheese
6 rolls, 210 calories, 8 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 370 mg sodium, 30 g carbs, 2 g fiber, 3 g sugar, 6 g protein
Aside from its poor nutritional profile, these rolls are coated with titanium dioxide, a whitening agent proven to cause liver and tissue damage in mice.
Ore-Ida Onion Ringers
3 pieces, 180 calories, 10 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 160 mg sodium, 21 g carbs, 2 g fiber, 3 g sugar, 2 g protein
Ore-Ida somehow managed to cram 60 calories and more than 3 grams of fat into each of these fried circles of adulterated onion. Considering most of us down at least five or six of those things at once, that's definitely not good news for your waistline.
Hebrew National Beef Franks in a Blanket
5 pieces, 310 calories, 25 g fat, 10 g saturated, 0.5 g trans, 590 mg sodium, 13 g carbohydrates, 1 g fiber, 1 g sugar, 8 g protein
There's never a good excuse to serve your guests an appetizer that has trans fats—ever. It's no wonder these mini franks are on the list of these 67 Worst Frozen Foods in America.
Market Pantry Cream Cheese Stuffed Jalapeño Poppers
3 pieces, 240 calories, 17 g fat, 5 g saturated fat, 320 mg sodium, 19 g carbs, 1 g fiber, 2 g sugar, 4 g protein
It's never a good idea to serve something that's 80 percent cream cheese and breading—and these poppers are no exception. Plus, the fact that just three of these things carry a quarter of the day's fat is downright mind blowing.
Market Pantry Mac & Cheese Bites
If cheese is what you crave, there are far less fatty and starchy ways to get your fix.
Tyson Any'tizers Stuffed Chicken Minis, Cordon Bleu
3 pieces, 200 calories, 12 g fat, 4.5 g saturated fat, 600 mg sodium 0 g fiber, 0 g sugar, 12 g protein
Any'tizers? You should really be thinking of these as Never'tizers. Because you should never, ever eat these! There about 100 different ingredients that go into making these little balls of fat and salt, and a fair share of them are chemicals you'd need a dictionary to learn how to pronounce. To learn more about the icky stuff lurking in our food supply, don't miss our report, 23 Worst Food Additives in America.
TGI Friday's Boneless Chicken Bites Honey BBQ
3 pieces, 150 calories, 4 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 570 mg sodium, 24 g carbs, < 1 g fiber, 6 g sugar, 11 g protein
What the heck are corn syrup solids and caramel coloring doing in these chicken bites?! The first, a type of sweetened hydrogenated fat, and the second a potentially carcinogenic food dye should both be on your "Do Not Eat" list.
White Castle Cheese Slider
2 sliders, 310 calories, 17 g fat, 8 g saturated fat, 1 g trans fat, 600 mg sodium, 26 g carbs, 1 g fiber, 3 g sugar, 14 g protein
With these calorie-jammed sliders on your appetizer table, no one will be hungry for the main meal.
Applegate Naturals Gluten-Free Chicken Breast Tenders
"Gluten-free" may distract you from the fact that these nuggets have more calories from carbs than their gluten-containing counterparts. You may as well just stick with those unless you or your dining companions are following a gluten-free plan.
T.G.I. Friday's Cheddar Cheese Stuffed Jalapeños
3 poppers, 240 calories, 15 g fat, 3.5 g saturated fat, 670 mg sodium, 22 g carbs, 1 g fiber, 3 g sugar, 5 g protein
They may not have cream cheese in them like traditional jalapeño poppers, but that doesn't make them any better for you. In fact, the cheese and the accompanying dipping sauce adds a ton of excess salt.